The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the international body for assessing the science related to climate change – has elected South Korean economist Prof Hoesung Lee as its new chair.
Lee will lead the organisation into its next cycle, which will include producing and disseminating a Sixth Assessment Report.
In addition to the chair, the IPCC also voted in three vice-chairs, and two co-chairs for each of their three working groups. Carbon Brief takes a look at the new leader and the team elected to support him.
Six to one
Six candidates stood for the position of IPCC chair – five of whom Carbon Brief had interviewed ahead of the IPCC meeting in Dubrovnik this week. The election was held last night, using the traditional method of paper and pen after problems with the electronic voting system.
After the first round, no candidate had achieved the 50% of the votes needed to win, so the election went to a second round between the two candidates with the most votes. In the run-off, Hoesung Lee was elected over Belgian Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, by a margin of 78 votes to 56.
Lee is a professor in the economics of climate change, energy and sustainable development at Korea University in Seoul. Lee is no stranger to the IPCC, having served as an author, reviewer, working group co-chair, and – most recently – as a vice-chair since 2008.
In a statement released after the vote, Lee expressed his gratitude to the IPCC members for electing him, and gave a brief insight into his leadership plans:
“The next phase of our work will see us increase our understanding of regional impacts, especially in developing countries, and improve the way we communicate our findings to the public. Above all, we need to provide more information about the options that exist for preventing and adapting to climate change. I look forward to working with my IPCC colleagues to reach these goals and I thank them for their support.”
Lee expanded on his plans in a press conference this morning, reiterating his intention to involve more experts from developing countries:
“One of my priorities over the next cycle of IPCC will be to enhance the participation of developing country experts. We need this expertise to fill in our knowledge gaps about the climate’s impacts across the whole planet. This knowledge will help the countries determine which adaptation and mitigation measures they will need to take.”
The way to do this, said Lee, is to “identify and network” with local centres of excellence – not just on climate science, but also economic development and poverty reduction.
Lee went on to say that he resolves to focus on some of these wider implications of climate change:
“I am particularly interested in climate change as it relates to job creation, health, innovation and technology development, energy access and poverty alleviation. As the new chair of IPCC, I intend to increase attention on these issues.”
Lee also said he will also look to incorporate expertise beyond academic and scientific circles:
“The IPCC can also engage with the business and finance sectors. Governments cannot solve the problem of climate change alone. We need the best and brightest from the private sector to become increasingly involved to interpret our findings and act upon them.”
Though science will remain the “core foundation” of the IPCC, Lee added:
“As much as we already know, there is always room to know more – to better understand how this complex and complicated thing we call the climate system works and sustains us.”
You can watch the press conference in full below.
IPCC press conference with the newly-elected chair, Hoesung Lee.
Carbon Brief explored some of Lee’s views on climate science and the IPCC in our in-depth interview last month. As an economist, one of the key areas that Lee was interested in was the idea of a carbon price:
“I think if you ask me to choose the most important work in climate change issues, then I’ll choose carbon price. That’s because it is the driver to put us into the right track. I would like to pursue, as much as possible, to increase our knowledge of carbon price and future emissions, and our knowledge on reducing the institutional barriers to adopting a carbon price system. And I think this is a tremendous challenge to the researchers around the world, but it’s a very exciting area.”
Economics provides a way to connect the challenge of reducing emissions to the decisions we make on a day-to-day basis, highlighted Lee. Whereas concepts such as carbon budgets, for example, are less able to have “much impact on action”, despite providing a “very serious message”:
“We have a goal, a number. But many people ask: that’s great, so what? That’s the situation now.”
For the IPCC specifically, Lee said it has “done a very effective job of identifying problems,” and has a “great role” ahead in identifying solutions to climate change:
“I believe the proper vehicle to convey that framework of message is the synthesis report. And not mostly on the identification of problems, not mostly on the reorganisation of messages from the different working groups, but a real synthesis in the context of providing a flavour for solutions, a flavour for opportunities for climate stabilisation, based upon each working group’s underlying report.”
But one area that Lee didn’t see the IPCC getting involved was in assessing Intended Nationally Determined Contributions ( INDCs) – the pledges each country is making on cutting emissions ahead of the climate talks in Paris in December:
“I do not think, in reality, the IPCC has the capacity to do such an evaluation. There are other organisations who can handle such questions more efficiently and more effectively.”
Vice-chairs and co-chairs
Lee’s response to several questions in the press conference – for example, on possible topics for IPCC special reports, and what deadline might be set for the Sixth Assessment Report – was that decisions would not just be made by him as chair, but involve the vice-chairs and the rest of the IPCC Bureau.
In the previous term, the IPCC chair has been assisted by two vice-chairs – Lee and the man he beat to the job of chair – Jean-Pascal van Ypersele.
Beneath them, the IPCC has three working groups – WGI: The physical science basis, WGII: Impacts, adaptation, vulnerability, WGIII: Mitigation of climate change – and a “Task Force Bureau on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories”. Each of these has at least two at co-chairs who oversee them. Two of the other candidates for IPCC chair have been working group co-chairs for the most recent assessment report – Thomas Stocker and Chris Field.
In the election earlier today, the IPCC elected three vice-chairs for this coming term:
Ko Barrett (US): Deputy Assistant Administrator for Oceanic and Atmospheric Research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Her IPCC experience includes being a lead representative for the US for the WGII and Synthesis Report approval sessions for the last two assessment reports.
Thelma Krug (Brazil): Head of the International Affairs Office at the National Institute for Space Research in São Paulo. She previously served two terms as co-chair on the Task Force Bureau on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories.
And this afternoon, the IPCC voted for their new working group co-chairs as well:
Valérie Masson-Delmotte (France, WGI)
Panmao Zhai (China, WGI)
Hans-Otto Pörtner (Germany, WGII)
Debra Roberts (South Africa, WGII)
Jim Skea (UK, WGIII)
Priyadarshi R. Shukla (India, WGIII)
So the UK gets a representative on the Bureau as a working group co-chair. Prof Jim Skea is the Research Council’s UK energy strategy fellow based at Imperial College London. His involvement with the IPCC goes back as far as the Second Assessment Report. Though more recently, he has been vice-chair of WGIII for the Fifth Assessment Report, and was also a review editor for the chapter on Energy Systems and the Synthesis Report.
With two female candidates elected as vice-chairs, and two voted in as co-chairs, this may provide more balance to the IPCC leadership, which only had male candidates for the IPCC chair election yesterday.
Tomorrow, IPCC members will elect the rest of the bureau, which includes the vice-chairs of the working groups and the co-chairs of the task force.
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